Tales From Home.
Miss Bartram's Trouble
It was a day of unusual excitement at the Rambo farm-house. On the farm, it is true, all things were in their accustomed order, and all growths did their accustomed credit to the season. The fences were in good repair; the cattle were healthy and gave promise of the normal increase, and the young corn was neither strangled with weeds nor assassinated by cut-worms. Old John Rambo was gradually allowing his son, Henry, to manage in his stead, and the latter shrewdly permitted his father to believe that he exercised the ancient authority. Leonard Clare, the strong young fellow who had been taken from that shiftless adventurer, his father, when a mere child, and brought up almost as one of the family, and who had worked as a joiner's apprentice during the previous six months, had come back for the harvest work; so the Rambos were forehanded, and probably as well satisfied as it is possible for Pennsylvania farmers to be.
In the house, also, Mrs. Priscilla Rambo was not severely haunted by the spectre of any neglected duty. The simple regular routine of the household could not be changed under her charge; each thing had its appropriate order of performance, must be done, and was done. If the season were backward, at the time appointed for whitewashing or soap-making, so much the worse for the season; if the unhatched goslings were slain by thunder, she laid the blame on the thunder. And if--but no, it is quite impossible to suppose that, outside of those two inevitable, fearful house-cleaning weeks in each year, there could have been any disorder in the cold prim, varnish-odored best rooms, sacred to company.
It was Miss Betty Rambo, whose pulse beat some ten strokes faster than its wont, as she sat down with the rest to their early country dinner. Whether her brother Henry's participated in the accelerated movement could not be guessed from his demeanor. She glanced at him now and then, with bright eyes and flushed cheeks, eager to speak yet shrinking from the half magisterial air which was beginning to supplant his old familiar banter. Henry was changing with his new responsibility, as she admitted to herself with a sort of dismay; he had the airs of an independent farmer, and she remained only a farmer's daughter,--without any acknowledged rights, until she should acquire them all, at a single blow, by marriage.
Nevertheless, he must have felt what was in her mind; for, as he cut out the quarter of a dried apple pie, he said carelessly:
"I must go down to the Lion, this afternoon. There's a fresh drove of Maryland cattle just come."
"Oh Harry!" cried Betty, in real distress.
"I know," he answered; "but as Miss Bartram is going to stay two weeks, she'll keep. She's not like a drove, that's here one day, and away the next. Besides, it is precious little good I shall have of her society, until you two have used up all your secrets and small talk. I know how it is with girls. Leonard will drive over to meet the train."
"Won't I do on a pinch?" Leonard asked.
"Oh, to be sure," said Betty, a little embarrassed, "only Alice-- Miss Bartram--might expect Harry, because her brother came for me when I went up."
"If that's all, make yourself easy, Bet," Henry answered, as he rose from the table. "There's a mighty difference between here and there. Unless you mean to turn us into a town family while she stays--high quality, eh?"
"Go along to your cattle! there's not much quality, high or low, where you are."
Betty was indignant; but the annoyance exhausted itself healthfully while she was clearing away the dishes and restoring the room to its order, so that when Leonard drove up to the gate with the lumbering, old-fashioned carriage two hours afterwards, she came forth calm, cheerful, fresh as a pink in her pink muslin, and entirely the good, sensible country-girl she was.
Two or three years before, she and Miss Alice Bartram, daughter of the distinguished lawyer in the city, had been room-mates at the Nereid Seminary for Young Ladies. Each liked the other for the contrast to her own self; both were honest, good and lovable, but Betty had the stronger nerves and a practical sense which seemed to be admirable courage in the eyes of Miss Alice, whose instincts were more delicate, whose tastes were fine and high, and who could not conceive of life without certain luxurious accessories. A very cordial friendship sprang up between them,-- not the effusive girl-love, with its iterative kisses, tears, and flow of loosened hair, but springing from the respect inspired by sound and positive qualities.
The winter before, Betty had been invited to visit her friend in the city, and had passed a very excited and delightful week in the stately Bartram mansion. If she were at first a little fluttered by the manners of the new world, she was intelligent enough to carry her own nature frankly through it, instead of endeavoring to assume its character. Thus her little awkwardnesses became originalities, and she was almost popular in the lofty circle when she withdrew from it. It was therefore, perhaps, slightly inconsistent in Betty, that she was not quite sure how Miss Bartram would accept the reverse side of this social experience. She imagined it easier to look down and make allowances, as a host, than as a guest; she could not understand that the charm of the change might be fully equal.
It was lovely weather, as they drove up the sweet, ever-changing curves of the Brandywine valley. The woods fairly laughed in the clear sunlight, and the soft, incessant, shifting breezes. Leonard, in his best clothes, and with a smoother gloss on his brown hair, sang to himself as he urged the strong-boned horses into a trot along the levels; and Betty finally felt so quietly happy that she forgot to be nervous. When they reached the station they walked up and down the long platform together, until the train from the city thundered up, and painfully restrained its speed. Then Betty, catching sight of a fawn-colored travelling dress issuing from the ladies' car, caught hold of Leonard's arm, and cried: "There she is!"
Miss Bartram heard the words, and looked down with a bright, glad expression on her face. It was not her beauty that made Leonard's heart suddenly stop beating; for she was not considered a beauty, in society. It was something rarer than perfect beauty, yet even more difficult to describe,--a serene, unconscious grace, a pure, lofty maturity of womanhood, such as our souls bow down to in the Santa Barbara of Palma Vecchio. Her features were not "faultlessly regular," but they were informed with the finer harmonies of her character. She was a woman, at whose feet a noble man might kneel, lay his forehead on her knee, confess his sins, and be pardoned.
She stepped down to the platform, and Betty's arms were about her. After a double embrace she gently disengaged herself, turned to Leonard, gave him her hand, and said, with a smile which was delightfully frank and cordial: "I will not wait for Betty's introduction, Mr. Rambo. She has talked to me so much of her brother Harry, that I quite know you already."
Leonard could neither withdraw his eyes nor his hand. It was like a double burst of warmth and sunshine, in which his breast seemed to expand, his stature to grow, and his whole nature to throb with some new and wonderful force. A faint color came into Miss Bartram's cheeks, as they stood thus, for a moment, face to face. She seemed to be waiting for him to speak, but of this he never thought; had any words come to his mind, his tongue could not have uttered them.
"It is not Harry," Betty explained, striving to hide her embarrassment. "This is Leonard Clare, who lives with us."
"Then I do not know you so well as I thought," Miss Bartram said to him; "it is the beginning of a new acquaintance, after all."
"There isn't no harm done," Leonard answered, and instantly feeling the awkwardness of the words, blushed so painfully that Miss Bartram felt the inadequacy of her social tact to relieve so manifest a case of distress. But she did, instinctively, what was really best: she gave Leonard the check for her trunk, divided her satchels with Betty, and walked to the carriage.
He did not sing, as he drove homewards down the valley. Seated on the trunk, in front, he quietly governed the horses, while the two girls, on the seat behind him, talked constantly and gaily. Only the rich, steady tones of Miss Bartram's voice would make their way into his ears, and every light, careless sentence printed itself upon his memory. They came to him as if from some inaccessible planet. Poor fellow! he was not the first to feel "the desire of the moth for the star."
When they reached the Rambo farm-house, it was necessary that he should give his hand to help her down from the clumsy carriage. He held it but a moment; yet in that moment a gentle pulse throbbed upon his hard palm, and he mechanically set his teeth, to keep down the impulse which made him wild to hold it there forever. "Thank you, Mr. Clare!" said Miss Bartram, and passed into the house. When he followed presently, shouldering her trunk into the upper best-room, and kneeling upon the floor to unbuckle the straps, she found herself wondering: "Is this a knightly service, or the menial duty of a porter? Can a man be both sensitive and ignorant, chivalrous and vulgar?"
The question was not so easily decided, though no one guessed how much Miss Bartram pondered it, during the succeeding days. She insisted, from the first, that her coming should make no change in the habits of the household; she rose in the cool, dewy summer dawns, dined at noon in the old brown room beside the kitchen, and only differed from the Rambos in sitting at her moonlit window, and breathing the subtle odors of a myriad leaves, long after Betty was sleeping the sleep of health.
It was strange how frequently the strong, not very graceful figure of Leonard Clare marched through these reveries. She occasionally spoke to him at the common table, or as she passed the borders of the hay-field, where he and Henry were at work: but his words to her were always few and constrained. What was there in his eyes that haunted her? Not merely a most reverent admiration of her pure womanly refinement, although she read that also; not a fear of disparagement, such as his awkward speech implied, but something which seemed to seek agonizingly for another language than that of the lips,--something which appealed to her from equal ground, and asked for an answer.
One evening she met him in the lane, as she returned from the meadow. She carried a bunch of flowers, with delicate blue and lilac bells, and asked him the name.
"Them's Brandywine cowslips," he answered; "I never heard no other name.
"May I correct you?" she said, gently, and with a smile which she meant to be playful. "I suppose the main thing is to speak one's thought, but there are neat and orderly ways, and there are careless ways." Thereupon she pointed out the inaccuracies of his answer, he standing beside her, silent and attentive. When she ceased, he did not immediately reply.
"You will take it in good part, will you not?" she continued. "I hope I have not offended you."
"No!" he exclaimed, firmly, lifting his head, and looking at her. The inscrutable expression in his dark gray eyes was stronger than before, and all his features were more clearly drawn. He reminded her of a picture of Adam which she had once seen: there was the same rather low forehead, straight, even brows, full yet strong mouth, and that broader form of chin which repeats and balances the character of the forehead. He was not positively handsome, but from head to foot he expressed a fresh, sound quality of manhood.
Another question flashed across Miss Bartram's mind: Is life long enough to transform this clay into marble? Here is a man in form, and with all the dignity of the perfect masculine nature: shall the broad, free intelligence, the grace and sweetness, the taste and refinement, which the best culture gives, never be his also? If not, woman must be content with faulty representations of her ideal.
So musing, she walked on to the farm-house. Leonard had picked up one of the blossoms she had let fall, and appeared to be curiously examining it. If he had apologized for his want of grammar, or promised to reform it, her interest in him might have diminished; but his silence, his simple, natural obedience to some powerful inner force, whatever it was, helped to strengthen that phantom of him in her mind, which was now beginning to be a serious trouble.
Once again, the day before she left the Rambo farmhouse to return to the city, she came upon him, alone. She had wandered off to the Brandywine, to gather ferns at a rocky point where some choice varieties were to be found. There were a few charming clumps, half-way up a slaty cliff, which it did not seem possible to scale, and she was standing at the base, looking up in vain longing, when a voice, almost at her ear, said:
"Which ones do you want?"
Afterwards, she wondered that she did not start at the voice. Leonard had come up the road from one of the lower fields: he wore neither coat nor waistcoat, and his shirt, open at the throat, showed the firm, beautiful white of the flesh below the strong tan of his neck. Miss Bartram noticed the sinewy strength and elasticity of his form, yet when she looked again at the ferns, she shook her head, and answered:
"None, since I cannot have them."
Without saying a word, he took off his shoes, and commenced climbing the nearly perpendicular face of the cliff. He had done it before, many a time; but Miss Bartram, although she was familiar with such exploits from the pages of many novels, had never seen the reality, and it quite took away her breath.
When he descended with the ferns in his hand, she said: "It was a great risk; I wish I had not wanted them."
"It was no risk for me," he answered.
"What can I send you in return?" she asked, as they walked forwards. "I am going home to-morrow."
"Betty told me," Leonard said; "please, wait one minute."
He stepped down to the bank of the stream, washed his hands carefully in the clear water, and came back to her, holding them, dripping, at his sides.
"I am very ignorant," he then continued,--"ignorant and rough. You are good, to want to send me something, but I want nothing. Miss Bartram, you are very good."
He paused; but with all her tact and social experience, she did not know what to say.
"Would you do one little thing for me--not for the ferns, that was nothing--no more than you do, without thinking, for all your friends?"
"Oh, surely!" she said.
"Might I--might I--now,--there'll be no chance tomorrow,--shake hands with you?"
The words seemed to be forced from him by the strength of a fierce will. Both stopped, involuntarily.
"It's quite dry, you see," said he, offering his hand. Her own sank upon it, palm to palm, and the fingers softly closed over each, as if with the passion and sweetness of a kiss. Miss Bartram's heart came to her eyes, and read, at last, the question in Leonard's. It was: "I as man, and you, as woman, are equals; will you give me time to reach you?" What her eyes replied she knew not. A mighty influence drew her on, and a mighty doubt and dread restrained her. One said: "Here is your lover, your husband, your cherished partner, left by fate below your station, yet whom you may lift to your side! Shall man, alone, crown the humble maiden,--stoop to love, and, loving, ennoble? Be you the queen, and love him by the royal right of womanhood!" But the other sternly whispered: "How shall your fine and delicate fibres be knit into this coarse texture? Ignorance, which years cannot wash away,--low instincts, what do you know?--all the servile side of life, which is turned from you,--what madness to choose this, because some current of earthly magnetism sets along your nerves? He loves you: what of that? You are a higher being to him, and he stupidly adores you. Think,--yes, dare to think of all the prosaic realities of life, shared with him!"
Miss Bartram felt herself growing dizzy. Behind the impulse which bade her cast herself upon his breast swept such a hot wave of shame and pain that her face burned, and she dropped her eyelids to shut out the sight of his face. But, for one endless second, the sweeter voice spoke through their clasped hands. Perhaps he kissed hers; she did not know; she only heard herself murmur:
"Good-bye! Pray go on; I will rest here."
She sat down upon a bank by the roadside, turned away her head, and closed her eyes. It was long before the tumult in her nature subsided. If she reflected, with a sense of relief, "nothing was said," the thought immediately followed, "but all is known." It was impossible,--yes, clearly impossible; and then came such a wild longing, such an assertion of the right and truth and justice of love, as made her seem a miserable coward, the veriest slave of conventionalities.
Out of this struggle dawned self-knowledge, and the strength which is born of it. When she returned to the house, she was pale and weary, but capable of responding to Betty Rambo's constant cheerfulness. The next day she left for the city, without having seen Leonard Clare again.
Henry Rambo married, and brought a new mistress to the farm-house. Betty married, and migrated to a new home in another part of the State. Leonard Clare went back to his trade, and returned no more in harvest-time. So the pleasant farm by the Brandywine, having served its purpose as a background, will be seen no more in this history.
Miss Bartram's inmost life, as a woman, was no longer the same. The point of view from which she had beheld the world was shifted, and she was obliged to remodel all her feelings and ideas to conform to it. But the process was gradual, and no one stood near enough to her to remark it. She was occasionally suspected of that "eccentricity" which, in a woman of five-and-twenty, is looked upon as the first symptom of a tendency to old-maidenhood, but which is really the sign of an earnest heart struggling with the questions of life. In the society of cities, most men give only the shallow, flashy surface of their natures to the young women they meet, and Miss Bartram, after that revelation of the dumb strength of an ignorant man, sometimes grew very impatient of the platitudes and affectations which came to her clad in elegant words, and accompanied by irreproachable manners.
She had various suitors; for that sense of grace and repose and sweet feminine power, which hung around her like an atmosphere, attracted good and true men towards her. To some, indeed, she gave that noble, untroubled friendship which is always possible between the best of the two sexes, and when she was compelled to deny the more intimate appeal, it was done with such frank sorrow, such delicate tenderness, that she never lost the friend in losing the lover. But, as one year after another went by, and the younger members of her family fell off into their separate domestic orbits, she began to shrink a little at the perspective of a lonely life, growing lonelier as it receded from the Present.
By this time, Leonard Clare had become almost a dream to her. She had neither seen him nor heard of him since he let go her hand on that memorable evening beside the stream. He was a strange, bewildering chance, a cypher concealing a secret which she could not intelligently read. Why should she keep the memory of that power which was, perhaps, some unconscious quality of his nature (no, it was not so! something deeper than reason cried:), or long since forgotten, if felt, by him?
The man whom she most esteemed came back to her. She knew the ripeness and harmony of his intellect, the nobility of his character, and the generosity of a feeling which would be satisfied with only a partial return. She felt sure, also, that she should never possess a sentiment nearer to love than that which pleaded his cause in her heart. But her hand lay quiet in his, her pulses were calm when he spoke, and his face, manly and true as it was, never invaded her dreams. All questioning was vain; her heart gave no solution of the riddle. Perhaps her own want was common to all lives: then she was cherishing a selfish ideal, and rejecting the positive good offered to her hands.
After long hesitation she yielded. The predictions of society came to naught; instead of becoming an "eccentric" spinster, Miss Bartram was announced to be the affianced bride of Mr. Lawrie. A few weeks and months rolled around, and when the wedding-day came, she almost hailed it as the port of refuge, where she should find a placid and peaceful life.
They were married by an aged clergyman, a relative of the bridegroom. The cross-street where his chapel stood, fronting a Methodist church--both of the simplest form of that architecture fondly supposed to be Gothic,--was quite blocked up by the carriages of the party. The pews were crowded with elegant guests, the altar was decorated with flowers, and the ceremony lacked nothing of its usual solemn beauty. The bride was pale, but strikingly calm and self-possessed, and when she moved towards the door as Mrs. Lawrie, on her husband's arm, many matrons, recalling their own experience, marvelled at her unflurried dignity.
Just as they passed out the door, and the bridal carriage was summoned, a singular thing happened. Another bridal carriage drew up from the opposite side, and a newly wedded pair came forth from the portal of the Methodist church. Both parties stopped, face to face, divided only by the narrow street. Mrs. Lawrie first noticed the flushed cheeks of the other bride, her white dress, rather showy than elegant, and the heavy gold ornaments she wore. Then she turned to the bridegroom. He was tall and well-formed, dressed like a gentleman, but like one who is not yet unconscious of his dress, and had the air of a man accustomed to exercise some authority.
She saw his face, and instantly all other faces disappeared. From the opposite brink of a tremendous gulf she looked into his eyes, and their blended ray of love and despair pierced her to the heart.
There was a roaring in her ears, followed a long sighing sound, like that of the wind on some homeless waste; she leaned more heavily on her husband's arm, leaned against his shoulder, slid slowly down into his supporting clasp, and knew no more.
"She's paying for her mock composure, after all," said the matrons.
"It must have been a great effort."
Ten years afterwards, Mrs. Lawrie went on board a steamer at Southampton, bound for New York. She was travelling alone, having been called suddenly from Europe by the approaching death of her aged father. For two or three days after sailing, the thick, rainy spring weather kept all below, except a few hardy gentlemen who crowded together on the lee of the smoke-stack, and kept up a stubborn cheerfulness on a very small capital of comfort. There were few cabin-passengers on board, but the usual crowd of emigrants in the steerage.
Mrs. Lawrie's face had grown calmer and colder during these years. There was yet no gray in her hair, no wrinkles about her clear eyes; each feature appeared to be the same, but the pale, monotonous color which had replaced the warm bloom of her youth, gave them a different character. The gracious dignity of her manner, the mellow tones of her voice, still expressed her unchanging goodness, yet those who met her were sure to feel, in some inexplicable way, that to be good is not always to be happy. Perhaps, indeed, her manner was older than her face and form: she still attracted the interest of men, but with a certain doubt and reserve.
Certain it is that when she made her appearance on deck, glad of the blue sky and sunshine, and threw back her hood to feel the freshness of the sea air, all eyes followed her movements, except those of a forlorn individual, who, muffled in his cloak and apparently sea-sick, lay upon one of the benches. The captain presently joined her, and the gentlemen saw that she was bright and perfectly self-possessed in conversation: some of them immediately resolved to achieve an acquaintance. The dull, passive existence of the beginning of every voyage, seemed to be now at an end. It was time for the little society of the vessel to awake, stir itself, and organize a life of its own, for the few remaining days.
That night, as Mrs. Lawrie was sleeping in her berth, she suddenly awoke with a singular feeling of dread and suspense. She listened silently, but for some time distinguished none other than the small sounds of night on shipboard--the indistinct orders, the dragging of ropes, the creaking of timbers, the dull, regular jar of the engine, and the shuffling noise of feet overhead. But, ere long, she seemed to catch faint, distant sounds, that seemed like cries; then came hurry and confusion on deck; then voices in the cabin, one of which said: "they never can get it under, at this rate!"
She rose, dressed herself hastily, and made her way through pale and excited stewards, and the bewildered passengers who were beginning to rush from their staterooms, to the deck. In the wild tumult which prevailed, she might have been thrown down and trampled under foot, had not a strong arm seized her around the waist, and borne her towards the stern, where there were but few persons.
"Wait here!" said a voice, and her protector plunged into the crowd.
She saw, instantly, the terrible fate which had fallen upon the vessel. The bow was shrouded in whirls of smoke, through which dull red flashes began to show themselves; and all the length and breadth of the deck was filled with a screaming, struggling, fighting mass of desperate human beings. She saw the captain, officers, and a few of the crew working in vain against the disorder: she saw the boats filled before they were lowered, and heard the shrieks as they were capsized; she saw spars and planks and benches cast overboard, and maddened men plunging after them; and then, like the sudden opening of the mouth of Hell, the relentless, triumphant fire burst through the forward deck and shot up to the foreyard.
She was leaning against the mizen shrouds, between the coils of rope. Nobody appeared to notice her, although the quarter-deck was fast filling with persons driven back by the fire, yet still shrinking from the terror and uncertainty of the sea. She thought: "It is but death--why should I fear? The waves are at hand, to save me from all suffering." And the collective horror of hundreds of beings did not so overwhelm her as she had both fancied and feared; the tragedy of each individual life was lost in the confusion, and was she not a sharer in their doom?
Suddenly, a man stood before her with a cork life-preserver in his hands, and buckled it around her securely, under the arms. He was panting and almost exhausted, yet he strove to make his voice firm, and even cheerful, as he said:
"We fought the cowardly devils as long as there was any hope. Two boats are off, and two capsized; in ten minutes more every soul must take to the water. Trust to me, and I will save you or die with you!"
"What else can I do?" she answered.
With a few powerful strokes of an axe, he broke off the top of the pilot-house, bound two or three planks to it with ropes, and dragged the mass to the bulwarks.
"The minute this goes," he then said to her, "you go after it, and I follow. Keep still when you rise to the surface."
She left the shrouds, took hold of the planks at his side, and they heaved the rude raft into the sea. In an instant she was seized and whirled over the side; she instinctively held her breath, felt a shock, felt herself swallowed up in an awful, fathomless coldness, and then found herself floating below the huge towering hull which slowly drifted away.
In another moment there was one at her side. "Lay your hand on my shoulder," he said; and when she did so, swam for the raft, which they soon reached. While she supported herself by one of the planks he so arranged and bound together the pieces of timber that in a short time they could climb upon them and rest, not much washed by the waves. The ship drifted further and further, casting a faint, though awful, glare over the sea, until the light was suddenly extinguished, as the hull sank.
The dawn was in the sky by this time, and as it broadened they could see faint specks here and there, where others, like themselves, clung to drifting spars. Mrs. Lawrie shuddered with cold and the reaction from an excitement which had been far more powerful than she knew at the time.
Her preserver then took off his coat, wrapped it around her, and produced a pocket-flask, saying; "this will support us the longest; it is all I could find, or bring with me."
She sat, leaning against his shoulder, though partly turned away from him: all she could say was: "you are very good."
After awhile he spoke, and his voice seemed changed to her ears. "You must be thinking of Mr. Lawrie. It will, indeed, be terrible for him to hear of the disaster, before knowing that you are saved."
"God has spared him that distress," she answered. "Mr. Lawrie died, a year ago."
She felt a start in the strong frame upon which she leaned. After a few minutes of silence, he slowly shifted his position towards her, yet still without facing her, and said, almost in a whisper:
"You have said that I am very good. Will you put your hand in mine?"
She stretched hers eagerly and gratefully towards him. What had happened? Through all the numbness of her blood, there sprang a strange new warmth from his strong palm, and a pulse, which she had almost forgotten as a dream of the past, began to beat through her frame. She turned around all a-tremble, and saw his face in the glow of the coming day.
"Leonard Clare!" she cried.
"Then you have not forgotten me?"
"Could one forget, when the other remembers?"
The words came involuntarily from her lips. She felt what they implied, the moment afterwards, and said no more. But he kept her hand in his.
"Mrs. Lawrie," he began, after another silence, "we are hanging by a hair on the edge of life, but I shall gladly let that hair break, since I may tell you now, purely and in the hearing of God, how I have tried to rise to you out of the low place in which you found me. At first you seemed too far; but you yourself led me the first step of the way, and I have steadily kept my eyes on you, and followed it. When I had learned my trade, I came to the city. No labor was too hard for me, no study too difficult. I was becoming a new man, I saw all that was still lacking, and how to reach it, and I watched you, unknown, at a distance. Then I heard of your engagement: you were lost, and something of which I had begun to dream, became insanity. I determined to trample it out of my life. The daughter of the master-builder, whose first assistant I was, had always favored me in her society; and I soon persuaded her to love me. I fancied, too, that I loved her as most married men seemed to love their wives; the union would advance me to a partnership in her father's business, and my fortune would then be secured. You know what happened; but you do not know how the sight of your face planted the old madness again in my life, and made me a miserable husband, a miserable man of wealth, almost a scoffer at the knowledge I had acquired for your sake.
"When my wife died, taking an only child with her, there was nothing left to me except the mechanical ambition to make myself, without you, what I imagined I might have become, through you. I have studied and travelled, lived alone and in society, until your world seemed to be almost mine: but you were not there!"
The sun had risen, while they sat, rocking on their frail support. Her hand still lay in his, and her head rested on his shoulder. Every word he spoke sank into her heart with a solemn sweetness, in which her whole nature was silent and satisfied. Why should she speak? He knew all.
Yes, it seemed that he knew. His arm stole around her, and her head was drawn from his shoulder to the warm breadth of his breast.
Something hard pressed her cheek, and she lifted her hand to move it aside. He drew forth a flat medallion case; and to the unconscious question in her face, such a sad, tender smile came to his lips, that she could not repress a sudden pain. Was it the miniature of his dead wife?
He opened the case, and showed her, under the glass, a faded, pressed flower.
"What is it?" she asked.
"The Brandywine cowslip you dropped, when you spoke to me in the lane. Then it was that you showed me the first step of the way."
She laid her head again upon his bosom. Hour after hour they sat, and the light swells of the sea heaved them aimlessly to and fro, and the sun burned them, and the spray drenched their limbs. At last Leonard Clare roused himself and looked around: he felt numb and faint, and he saw, also, that her strength was rapidly failing.
"We cannot live much longer, I fear," he said, clasping her closely in his arms. "Kiss me once, darling, and then we will die."
She clung to him and kissed him.
"There is life, not death, in your lips!" he cried. "Oh, God, if we should live!"
He rose painfully to his feet, stood, tottering? on the raft, and looked across the waves. Presently he began to tremble, then to sob like a child, and at last spoke, through his tears:
"A sail! a sail!--and heading towards us!"